He was watching her intently. She was strolling around the room and absently flicking off the ash from her seventh Gauloises every now and then, which came down in big flakes right on the worn persian carpet. "Maisie Gallagher. I can't believe this." "What is it that you can't believe?" She looked at him in bewilderment, not noticing that quite evidently, to him, whatever Maisie Gallagher may or may not have done was clear as glass. He might not approve but he sort of understood her motives. "George! I can't believe George is still a thing! I cannot. How can she stick with him like that? He's always been a moron, but that's like, a matter of taste, I reckon? Or ignorance? Whatever it is, now the whole world is aware of him being a complete douche, too, so why would she- oh, Christ's sake! I can't believe this!" She stopped for a second, another portion of ash tumbled sadly to the ground. The cigarette seemed aware that it wasn't being smoked and the realisation of the utter futility of its existence must've been hard for the poor thing to bear as it died out slowly and inevitably.
"Not that I cared too much, mind you," she resumed, "I'm so over trying to tell her, and everybody else actually, how they're wasting themselves on bullshit. Because they always know better, don't they, the little sweethearts." He chuckled. She furrowed her brow. "Why'd you laugh? What you laughing at?" He sighed. "Nothing. It's just funny how worked up you get about this." "Oh God." She stood with her eyes closed for a moment, to open them like drawing the curtain in a theatre, like she always did, as if it was the overture to a sermon she was about to deliver, as he'd witnessed often enough. "I don't get worked up- it enrages me. Mostly because I am usually the one she comes running to with a backpack full of tears, when something happens," she said dryly. There was a silence and he thought she was being unexpectedly brief. "Well, did you tell Maisie?", he asked. "Tell her what?" "What you think." "The hell I did! I have tried a hundred times before. She says I don't understand," she added theatrically and shook her head in complete and utter disapproval. He felt a bit bad for poor Maisie Gallagher who had probably tried to explain herself using terms such as 'love', or 'feelings', and cried whilst saying things like 'for the sake of what we had', or 'it's something special'.
He tried to catch her eyes for a minute or so, but she was staring out the window. "You wouldn't be taking any hits, would you." She gave him a pretty bewildered glance, as though his remark had insulted her by just allowing the possibility that she might. "No," she answered in a cocky voice. He sighed and she finally sat down on the armrest of a sofa and took a drag from what was left of her cigarette. "Well, tell me- would you?" He was now slowly stepping around the carpet in patterns.
A record player was spinning quietly. The music was pretty mesmerising, swallowing the listener: layers on layers of seemingly carelessly arranged guitars and synthesisers, modified by just about every pedal in the world, and the sound of an omnipresent pad holding all threads together. He walked over and picked up the sleeve of the record. "This is good, isn't it," he said. "Oh yes, it is. I swear I've had it playing for like two weeks on loop. So good. Really something to get lost in." She sat with her arms crossed, watching the disc turn. "I think my brain just pauses when I listen to those songs."
He adjusted the collar of his shirt as though it was hindering his breath, put the sleeve back and sat down next to her. "Can I ask you something?" She glanced at him briefly, tossed her cigarette butt into a nearby ashtray on the floor and lit another. "Sure. Go ahead." "You're not really into love, are you. And still you love those songs so much. That's literally all they're about, love. How come?" She gave off a little laugh, he sat still for a moment, wondering if that had been a smart move. "I mean, I'm just asking because I know that you despise Maisie's decisions about Georg first and foremost because she's in love, and that's her only reason to not give his butt a massive kick out the door, even though she should," he resumed. "I've heard you talk about it - remember, the other night at Greta's, when Georg and Van threw up all over the kitchen? And Mrs. Wazkovsky from downstairs threatened us with a frying pan because it was late and we just wouldn't be quiet? You literally gave a speech about how you'd never surrender your dreams and ideals to drives and hormones that people disguise as this crazy, mysterious, almighty thing; that you would never let it get to you this much - all that."
He broke off, leaving space for a silence that was not as much awkward as it seemed to be picking up speed; that is, to him it did- she was merely sitting on the armrest, smiling to herself and carefully arranging an answer and the piles of grey flakes and powder in the ashtray that she picked up from the floor. "Well, first of all, they're also about breakups and moving on, and changing, and all that stuff. Primarily so, actually. Not to mention that I hugely enjoy the fantastic melodic composition. But you know what," she said, "incidentally, I've asked myself the same question as late as yesterday. And I'm not sure if the answer I came up with is satisfying to me, or will be to you. And if it's an answer at all, and not just a poor excuse." She finished composing a perfect circle out of the ash with her pinkie, sat down next to him and placed the tray back on the carpet between her feet. He watched her. "So? What's the faux answer?"
She looked up from the floor and caught his eyes for a split second, then he looked away. "In brief, I probably parasitise other people's emotions." He snorted. The smirk on her face remained intact. "Is this it? This really is unsatisfactory. I mean-" He paused, apparently to compose himself for his next argument that brought about a slight bitterness to his face. "David..." She laughed out loud. "What about him," she said. "He's...You had a pretty massive crush on him, didn't you," he resumed. "Van said Dave tried to ask you out a million times and what he got was a few very elaborate, very elusive replies that could only be read as It's Not Gonna Happen. I don't get it. You could have him, easily so. But you just wouldn't. Why soak up, and indulge in someone else's emotional experiences - or no, not even that- someone's artistic reproductions of their emotional experiences, rather than have your own?" He looked as though he wanted and didn't want to know at the same time. She blew smoke out of her mouth to inhale it back through her nostrils.
"You ever read Jameson?" she asked. "Yes I have," he said, "but I-" "Look, it's very relevant, in case you were going to say it's just philosophy," she interrupted. "Hit me if I'm wrong but I think it was him who said that people these days prefer to experience a controlled de-control of emotions, and not to subject their entire being to affective experiences, all that kinda stuff." "That was about drugs, as far as I remember." "Yeah, but it's the same thing, essentially, isn't it? It's some funky chemicals going nuts in your blood and brain, no more. And I think I'm into that. I just borrow what went into the music for the few minutes I listen to it, then go ahead living my life. Don't we all? We want stories, we devour them in songs, in films, in books. That's not really a quirky thing to do, is it. Everyone does it."
He shook his head. "It's not, it really isn't. And it's not that I can't follow you, all of this is actually quite apparent, really." She gave him an amused look. "But?" He sighed. "But I believe people mostly do it for a lack of worthwhile stories in their lives. You, on the other hand, seem to consciously avoid every chance of a story." Now she shook her head. "It's not like all stories revolve around being with someone. You know that. As of now, I believe I'm better off this way." "It's not like it's always already a commitment, you know." This came out of his mouth a lot more impatient or desperate than he intended. "I know," she said. "It's not about that." She turned to him, grinning impishly. "What are you trying to do, anyway, set me up with Dave, or what?" He, slightly flustered, met her gaze. "This is the last thing on earth I'd want to do, honestly." There was a pause that felt a bit like leaving a cake in the oven for a tad too long. "What the hell are you scared of?" he asked finally. She leaned back against the cushions. "Letters from the tax office, mostly," she said, "and polar bears being extinct." He couldn't help laughing.
Half an hour later she was swearing to herself about all the ashen traces on her beloved Persian carpet. At that same time, he was walking down Vanderbilt Avenue, wondering if there was a chance for him at all.